They may be a little grayer and move a little slower, but a senior cat is just as lovable as a zooming and mischievous kitten. There are many benefits a senior cat brings into your life, and adopting one will return the favor when all they want to do is enjoy their old age with dignity and unconditional love. Of course, age is a significant factor in behavioral and lifestyle change in all pets, therefore, living with an older cat is far different from living with a kitten. But the rewards and joys you and your cat find in each other’s company are just as special. They may not come with the wonder and insatiable curiosity and toddler-raising experience of kitten-hood, but adopting and caring for a senior cat is a gift that keeps on giving.
At What Age is a Cat Considered a Senior?
Purrsonally I consider myself ageless, but I suppose other cats reach the time in their lives when they become a little less spry. A cat qualifies as a senior if they are 11 years or older (in human years). If you’re curious about how old a cat is in cat years, a two year old cat is about the same as a 24 year old human. From there, every year your cat ages equals 4 human years. While modern veterinary medicine and lifestyles have helped me and my feline brethren live longer than we ever have, very few cats will cross the age line from senior to ancient.
Apparently, the oldest cat that ever lived—among others—was a lovely feline named Creme Puff, who passed away in 2005. She lived to be 38! Me-wow! If I live to be that age, I’d better get a purrty big feast!
While borderline immortality is an impressive feat for a cat, most of us who live indoors only will be around for an average of 12-16 years and over. Those of us who are kept outdoors or left outside unsupervised are less likely to live as long.
Common signs of age in cats include a weakened immune system, thinner, less elastic skin—just like humans, loss of senses such as hearing and smell, and aching joints to name a few. When considering adopting a senior cat, you’re going to need to know how to keep them happy and healthy in ways that require specific care.
Senior Cats Have Different Needs
Just as you humans go through changes throughout your lifespan and your minds and bodies change, so do us cats. Many of the health needs senior felines come with are comparable to human senior citizens, except on a smaller scale. As cats get older, their immune system becomes weaker and their everyday habits need tweaked in order for them to adapt more easily to the challenges that surface in old age. Here are the main responsibilities an owner of a senior cat can expect, whether they already have an older cat or are planning on adopting one.
- Dietary changes. Senior cats require more and less of certain nutrients as their bodies change. Today, many studies suggest that homemade and raw diets are the best course of action or all ages of cats, because all cats age differently, especially where their immune system is concerned. For example, older cats are more prone to weight gain since they are generally less active, so adjusting their meal portions might be necessary if your senior cat starts to get a little more plump than usual. On the other paw, some cats will lose weight when they reach old age, however this is usually a sign of an underlying health issue and should be looked into to be safe. A trusted vet can help you figure out the best mealtime regimen for your elderly cat. Senior cats commonly develop dental issues, so it is best that they be fed a diet of fresh raw food, which is soft by nature since it has never been cooked or processed. Adding water to your cat’s food is also effective in keeping them hydrated if they’re not drinking as much water as they should. We believe in raising their food and water bowls because it is a big help for cats of all ages to swallow easier than when they have to lean down to eat or drink. Mom always adds an 8oz cup of water to our food every day so that we’re well-hydrated.
- Extra support. If you’ve heard elderly humans complain about aching joints, shortness of breath, and poorer senses, you’ll probably understand what it’s like from a cat’s point of view. If an older cat’s sight, hearing, or smell are becoming poor, they will rely on familiarity and need you to be there for them when they have trouble getting around. In addition to diminished senses, an old cat will need softer, more plush bedding to help cushion their joints. Naturally, they’re going to spend more time resting than running about, so providing them with a comfier upgrade will ensure better sleep for an elderly cat! You can also help soothe their joints by learning how to massage your cat. Investing in or building steady-incline ramps or steps will reduce the risk of your senior cat hurting themselves if they already struggle with jumping up to higher places, and thus save you and your cat a visit to the dreaded vet.
- Grooming and hygiene. A senior cat will also need more assistance with grooming than their younger counterparts. As I’m sure both humans and cats can agree, the older you get, the more effort taking care of yourself requires. This is why doing the little things for a senior cat such as wiping away the gooey discharge from around their eyes, nose, and um...back door, go a long way in keeping a senior cat clean, especially if they have trouble making it to the litter box. Other maintenance tips for caring for a senior cat include trimming their claws and giving their fur an extra brushing.
- Sure, an older cat may not display bursts of energy that require frequent play and stimulation, but they still need exercise! But they’ll probably play while lying down, so stick to dangly toys or kicking toys that allow elderly cats to get that rush of play without compromising too much of their energy.
- Any health issues or disabilities that require regular or routine care (find out the costs). Elderly cats are just like elderly people, they may need a little extra support to help get around and mitigate changes in their bodies from aging. That being said, keeping tabs on your cat’s health frequently is just as important as having records on pre-existing health conditions a senior pet may have. You’ll also want to move litter boxes into a closer proximity around your home in the case where your aging cat has trouble getting to the ‘little kitty’s room’ due to underlying bladder and bowel conditions. Given that senior cats are more prone to disease and health issues, looking into pet insurance as your pet ages will bring you peace of mind while you tackle all the human things in addition to making sure one of our elderly brethren is as happy and healthy as can be.
Love and Understanding
Older cats have a harder time adapting to change, so aiming to reduce environmental stress to the best of your ability will be a big help to your elderly feline friend. This is important to remember when you’re bringing home your new senior companion, because moving to a new home can be really stressful for them. You can help ease the transition by bringing with them a favorite blanket or toy from the shelter or their previous home, since familiarity is key in helping the cat feel comfortable in the new environment. I’ve heard that certain types of cat-calming collars and plug-in diffusers have amazing effects on the feline mind, which can save a lot of hassle for you and the new cat in this situation. The elderly feline will still need time and space to explore their new home and figure out where everything is, including the best hiding places.
Keep in mind that your new senior furry friend’s time with you will be shorter than if you brought them home as a kitten. Be prepared for them to pass away sooner or unexpectedly from old age or health complications. This is all the more reason why older cats deserve to live out their golden years in a loving home. Even the healthiest elderly cat will still need love and support to live their lives to the fullest.
Senior cats usually end up in shelters due to their owners passing away with no family or friends willing to take them in. However, there are also cases where the cat’s family goes through a sudden, unexpected change (homelessness, losing a job, acquiring a disability) that forces them to leave their cat in a shelter because they can no longer afford to give them the care they need.
Benefits of Adopting A Senior Cat
- Low-energy and lower maintenance. Some cat lovers are willing to handle the energy and unbound curiosity of a kitten, but others may want a pet that is cool, calm, and collected. This is where adopting a senior cat comes in. Senior cats will already be litter box trained and are more likely to be already spayed or neutered, which will save you some vet bills. Older cats will also spend more time sleeping, and don’t expend any more energy than necessary, so you can worry less about them wreaking havoc in your home. For this reason, senior cats are great companions for older folks and people who live alone.
- Friendlier temperaments. An older cat has already spent years around members of a household, and are therefore more likely to come with established manners and tend to get along with other pets as well as small children, depending on their history. Of course, no matter how lax an elderly cat’s disposition is, an older cat will still need time to warm up to and others you live with when adopted.
- You’re saving their life. Humans will go gaga over new kittens in a shelter and overlook cats that are already grown. Among the adult cats that are less eye-catching to aspiring cat owners are the seniors who still have plenty of time left to love and be loved. And because senior cats are the oldest and less likely to be adopted, they’re usually the first in line for being euthanized. By adopting a senior cat, you are giving them more time to enjoy their life and live it fully. They deserve to live out the rest of their days in a warm and loving home, just like elderly humans. Remember that adopting any pet also opens up a spot in the shelter for another to be taken in for adoption. In that sense, you’re saving TWO animals. However, senior cats are the least likely to be adopted, so let’s adopt them first!
Whether you’re looking for a calmer companion or want to save a shelter cat’s life, adopting a senior cat is a wonderful way to bring the unique love of a cat and the benefits that come with it into your life. They will need you as much as you’ll need them. If a kitten sounds like too much time and work to properly care for, adopting a senior cat may be one of the best decisions you’ve ever made. And just like kittens, they come in all shapes, sizes and personalities. By spending some time with senior cats at a shelter, you’ll no doubt find one that’s as perfect for you as you are for them.